The Kerala Police on Sunday night took at least 68 people into preventive custody after fresh protests started at Sabarimala, PTI reported. The protestors allegedly defied police orders at Nadapanthal (the covered walkway) near the hill shrine and violated Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits more than four people from gathering at a spot. They were taken to the Pamba police station.

“Section 144 had been declared in the area,” said Superintendent of Police (Special Officer) Pratheesh Kumar. “We had asked them to disperse after the ‘harivarasanam’ [a devotional song] but most of them refused.”

The police had imposed strict restrictions for devotees at Sannidhanam, or the main temple, including not allowing them to stay back in the night. The devotees had gathered at the covered pathway to the temple when they were asked to leave the area. However, the devotees gathered and chanted prayers despite the presence of security personnel, the Hindustan Times reported. There was a minor scuffle as the crowd got into an argument with Superintendent of Police Yatish Chandra, with the devotees refusing to back down.

Several workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh protested outside Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s house in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday night, Mathrubhumi reported. Protests against police action were also held in other places, including Kochi, Kollam, Alappuzha, Malappuram and Idukki.

Kumar said the police would assist the devotees who wanted to offer prayers. “Those who have to offer ‘neyyabhishekam’ [anointing the deity with ghee] can stay back, they can recite prayers also,” he said. “We are not against it.”

The police on Saturday took into preventive custody the general secretary of the BJP in Kerala, K Surendran, from Nilakkal for trying to proceed to the temple. He was remanded to 14-day judicial custody on Sunday.

Union minister KJ Alphons, who arrived at Nilakkal base camp on Monday, claimed the situation in Sabarimala is worse than Emergency. “Section 144 is imposed for no reason,” ANI quoted him as saying. “Devotees are not terrorists, why do they need 15,000 policemen here.”

Alphons asked if the police had been deployed in a bid to instil fear and panic, according to The Indian Express. “This is not Soviet Russia under Stalin, this is a democratic country,” he said. “Law and order is the responsibility of the state government.” On Saturday, the minister had said the manner in which Surendran was arrested was despicable, Manorama Online reported.

BJP Kerala President P Sreedharan Pillai claimed that the state government was making the temple “a centre of dispute to destroy its uniqueness”. He condemned the police action and said that the party would help the protestors to protect the shrine from the “hidden agenda of the atheists”.

“We are exploring all opportunities to expand the protests nationwide,” The Indian Express quoted Pillai as saying on Monday. “We have also held consultations with the Centre on how to move legally. We will continue to walk on the path of dharma,” he said in Pathanamthitta.

Travancore Dewaswom Board President A Padmakumar on Sunday said no unnecessary restrictions would be placed on devotees.

The temple opened on Friday evening for the third time after the Supreme Court in September allowed women of all ages to enter the temple. However, so far, no woman between the ages of 10 and 50 has been given entry into the temple due to massive protests. According to the police’s new rules that came into effect from Friday, no pilgrim will be allowed to proceed to the temple after 7 pm as the temple closes for the day at 10 pm.